Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stay Humble 

May God preserve a soul if it happens to get puffed up with pride!  In vain will appearances be in its favor.  The truth is that it will achieve nothing, for it is absolutely certain that no good work can be carried on without the grace of God. 

From: Envoy for Christ, by Patrick Madrid

Sunday, November 4, 2012

There’s a story about a young man who approached Rabbi Shammai ~ a contemporary of Jesus ~ and promised to convert to Judaism if Shammai could teach him the Torah while the young man stood on one foot.  Shammai then smacked this young man with a stick he was holding.  “This is impossible!”
The man then when to Rabbi Hillel offering the same challenge.  The rabbi said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.  This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.  Now, go and learn it.”  Shortly afterward, the young man converted to Judaism.
Synthesizing the Torah wasn't unusual.  There are 613 laws in the Torah representing the 365 prohibition s given to Moses corresponding to the days of the year, and 248 positive commandments corresponding to the bones of a human body.  It was eventually taught that it could all be reduced to: do right and keep justice.
In the gospel, Jesus receives such a challenge and responds to the young man… “You are not far from the Kingdom of God…”
Moses tells the Israelites, “Hear O Israel.  The lord is our God, the lord alone!  Therefore you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. Take to heart these words.”  
“Keep repeating them to your children.  Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”
The scribe who asked Jesus “Which is the first of all the commandments?” wondered if Jesus was truly Jewish.  Any observant Jew would know the answer to that question… and would also commit to learning about God’s teachings, and teach this law to children and speak of the Torah whenever possible.
Jesus adds to the familiar formula with a second mandate… you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Clearly this scribe didn't know Jesus well.  He replied, “Well said, teacher.  You are right.”  Here is Jesus… the only begotten son of God, born of the father before all ages.  God from God.  Light from light, true God from true God… begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.”  This scribe congratulates him on being right!
Jesus, is always compassionate and isn't provoked by the scribe.  When the scribe answered with understanding, Jesus said to him… “you are not far from the Kingdom of God” and no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God…”  Wouldn't it be great to hear Jesus speak those words to each of us?  We know there will be a time for us to stand before God… saints among saints in the halls of Heaven.
Watching and waiting for the second coming, we do well to remember Pope St. Leo the Great who observed that whatever was visible in Christ has passed over to the sacraments.  Here is what we saw in Christ… inclusion for the isolated, light for those in darkness, food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, balm for the afflicted, healing for the sick, sight for the blind, and new life for the dead.
When we begin to understand the great promise to which we are called, even the greatest challenges in our lives can't obscure our vision.  We look to be enfolded in God’s love, praying that we will know this reality.  The Holy Spirit challenges our hearts and minds to accept this vision.  Our faith then brings the love of God to light the entire world through our words and works.
You are not far from the Kingdom of God…. Its as near as the person next to you.  It’s in the humble awareness that our forgiveness is measured on how we treat and forgive others.
In Deuteronomy, Moses implores the people of Israel that they will still need God now that they have arrived in the Promised Land.  They will need God as much as they did in the desert.  This is Moses’ last wish for his people. 
Teilhard de Chardin wrote of this need for God: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will discover fire.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

“Contemplation,” or meditation as it is called by some, became more popular in our times thanks to the writings of Thomas Merton.  The word most Christians were more familiar with was simply “prayer.”
Unfortunately, prayer became something functional; something you did to achieve a desired effect ~ which puts you back in charge instead of God.  As soon as you make prayer a way to get something, you’re not moving into a new state of awareness.  It's the same old realization.  “How can I get God to do what I want God to do?”  It's the self-centeredness in us still deciding what we need, but often times trying to manipulate God as well.
This is one reason religion is in such frantic straits today.  It really isn't transforming people, but leaving them in their separated and self-centered state.  It tries to pull God inside of my agenda instead of letting God pull me inside of his.  This is still the small old self at work.  
What we need to talk about is the emergence of “a whole new creation” and a “new mind,” as St. Paul calls it.  We need to “Put on the mind of Christ” and so find a new way of living.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

   People don't always have a choice in what they're going to do today.  They don't always have a choice in where they're going to go today.  But I believe all human beings have a choice as to who they're going to be today.

Monday, May 7, 2012

At the headwaters of the Jordan River, Jesus nearly begs for a profession of faith from his disciples, even after they’ve witnessed His miracles and heard His profound teaching.  Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?”  Don’t give me someone else’s thoughts.  Who is the Jesus you know?  That’s the only Jesus that can really touch your heart and bring you freedom. 
Finally, Peter responds: “You are the Christ!” (Mark 8:29). “Jesus gave him strict orders not to tell anyone” (8:30).  This is a curious order.  Since each one of us has to travel the same path of death and doubt for ourselves ~ and come out the other side, we need to figure it out for ourselves.  No one can do this homework for you.
The helps of those who have gone before us or those who offer spiritual insight are very helpful and necessary.  That’s why the Church keeps alive the memory of our saints.
The murdered body of Jesus is forever an image of what the world does to love ~ it fears it and kills it.  Yet God will have the last word: This Jesus that you've killed and hated, I raise Him up and hold Him now before all the nations.  Until the end of time, He is the sign of how love will win, for love is always stronger than death.
Jesus’ love of the unbelieving disciples is an eternal promise of His love of all disciples, like you and me.  On Pentecost we celebrate part of the fulfillment of the promises of Jesus… the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Let’s celebrate that gift and use it every day.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why Catholic Schools

During my almost 32 years of being a priest, I have been assigned to three parishes in MA and three parishes in Arizona that had Catholic schools.  I was pastor at St. Benedict’s when St. John Bosco was constructed and opened.  The face of Catholic schools has changed, but their essential nature ~ their reason for existence ~ hasn’t changed since the first Catholic school in the USA.  History tells us that the first parish school opened in 1782 at Philadelphia ~ if you don’t count the school the Franciscans opened in what was to become St. Augustine Fl in 1606.  Catholic schools flourished, mostly because anti-Catholic bias also flourished.  Pastors and parents wanted to be sure their children received a good education, and one that was not blatantly anti-Catholic.
One of Jesus’ last statements was: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  There are two challenges here… to teach and to observe.  As a church, we have a responsibility not only to teach the word of God, but also teach how to live that word of God.  I think Catholic schools are the best way to teach the word and to live it… outside the family.
At the end of the 19th century, our Catholic predecessors realized that, even though they were living their Catholic heritage at home, there was a need for their children to receive a more intense exposure to their faith and Catholic heritage where these children spent most of their day ~ their school.
Even long ago, there were elements contrary to the catholic faith that parents felt would cause harm to their children.  So, they began, with great sacrifice, what has become the Catholic school system in the USA.  They were established, not to compete with other schools, but to offer what other schools couldn’t or wouldn’t offer.  Their job was, and still it, to offer the best of human education with the best of Catholic formation.
Parishes found dedicated religious orders to teach in these schools.  They took the best of human knowledge in math, science, social studies and all other subjects and wove into the normal lessons of the classroom the content of our faith, as well as the values of our heritage ~ all this in addition to teaching formal religion classes.
That same methodology is used today, despite the changes in the externals of Catholic schools.  There are few religious teaching these days, although I have been working hard to locate an order of religious to come to Annunciation when we open our full 8 grades in just over a year.  Our lay teachers share the same spirit of dedication.  There are fewer schools in the USA, but the same mission is there.  I’m happy to say that Annunciation is in the forefront of education and formation.  You parents obviously see the need to reinforce Catholic values that you teach in the home.
We live in an increasingly secular and materialistic society whose values are often at odds with our Catholic beliefs.  The media is quite hostile to our Catholic church.  These values we hold dear are constantly being threatened in popular culture, the media, and even the laws of our state and country’s government.
I read recently about a campus ministry program sponsored by a non-Catholic college.  One of their projects was BYOB… Build Your Own Belief.  I don’t understand how Catholic families are willing to spend so much money every year to send a child to a college that has adopted secular values and made them into a religion.
Our social structures in the past, reinforced basic Christian values… they now have been replaced by secular structures that make even the basics difficult.  Any pastor can tell you, that religious instruction and sacrament preparation has to compete against entertainment and sports that have taken on a priority greater than life with God.
So, our children today need the program that only a Catholic school can offer.  We believe that the answer to the question: “Why did God make me? is “God made me to be happy with him forever in heaven.  We live in a world where science want to control reproduction with no room for God; where happiness is something to be purchased; and where “forever” has the life expectancy of a few months or years.
Catholic schools today try to unite faith, culture and life by having the freedom to take the best of human wisdom, analyze and incorporate that wisdom into the life of faith, and give us a life filled with meaning.  In some schools “do the math” means get a correct answer.  In Catholic schools, “do the math” should mean, “count your blessings!”
Annunciation and other Catholic schools are a blessing for families, for children and the entire church community that benefits and will benefit from the lives of these children.  We present a vision of life inspired by Jesus, not the vision that is often portrayed in music or film today.  We bring out the best that our students can offer.
Sometimes I meet other pastors who question the value of Catholic schools, especially when parents are lackluster about their faith and commitment to the parish.  The real question for parents is: “why do I choose Catholic schools?”
Parents are the best and first teachers of their children in the ways of faith.  No matter what Catholic schools do to share the lived-out Catholic faith, children learn more from their parents.  Don’t be concerned about your children’s faith life.  Your children will live out their faith in the same way that you live out yours. 
There is a challenge there… a challenge to make your faith-lives strong… as strong as what we at Annunciation are trying to do with the children you entrust to our care.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Body and Blood of Christ...

The question of exactly when the eucharistic gifts become Christ's Body and Blood has commanded attention and debate for centuries.
From the supper at Emmaus, disciples have cherished the Eucharist as the clearest sign of the Risen Lord's abiding presence.  Yet, beginning in the Middle Ages, for a thousand years laypeople in the West seldom received Communion, and even then only under the form of bread.  For that reason knowing when Christ became present at Mass was a key to spiritual life, since the ordinary way of worship was looking at the consecrated Host raised high over the priest's head rather than eating it.  Medieval scholars ~ all priests ~ naturally looked at the Eucharistic Prayer and the cherished memory of the words and deeds of Jesus at the Last Supper, called the "Institution Narrative."  The winning answer in the debate was keyed to the words of the priest: "This is my body." (in Latin ~ “Hoc est enim corpus meum.”)
Today, the answer can be found in the Catechism, but also by observing the liturgy.  The Catechism says that as soon as the Institution Narrative begins, the Lord is present in the elements of bread and wine.  That is why the universal law of the church directs the assembly to kneel for this part of the Eucharistic Prayer.
The ritual direction in the Roman Missal says that after the Institution Narrative, the "priest holds the consecrated host and shows it to the congregation."  The postures and gestures and texts of the liturgy are clear that the transformation is already complete midway through the Eucharistic Prayer.
The same question never captured the attention of the Eastern Catholic traditions.  For them, the critical moment has always been the epiclesis, or the calling down of the Holy Spirit on the gifts of bread and wine and the assembly.  The priest extends his hands over the gifts and asks the Holy Spirit "that they may become us into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."  For an Eastern Christian, that's the critical moment.
There is a deeper, more personal question.  At what point do we become the Body and Blood of Christ?  The bread and wine is not consecrated for its own sake, after all, but for the good of the church and for the world.  The question is worth thinking over.  Maybe knowing the answer to "when" the bread and wine are transformed will lead to the more critical and personal question as to "why" the Lord comes to us in Holy Communion.
During this season of Lent, let's each of us look at that question, and find out just what happens inside of us as a direct result of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass.  Then and only then, will we be able to bring Christ to the world in which we live.